Organized Research Unit Guidelines

Definition and Purpose

An Organized Research Unit (ORU) is an academic unit established by the University to provide a focused and supportive infrastructure for inter-, cross-, and multi-disciplinary research complementary to the academic goals of departments and schools. Indeed, ORUs should focus on research agendas that cannot be pursued in the existing departmental and school organizational structures. The functions of an ORU are to facilitate research and research collaborations; disseminate research results through research conferences, meetings and other activities; strengthen graduate and undergraduate education by providing students with training opportunities and access to facilities; and carry out university and public service programs related to the ORU's research expertise. To the extent appropriate and feasible, ORUs should seek extramural support for these activities. An ORU must advance the academic goals of the University, but does not have jurisdiction over courses or curricula and cannot offer formal courses or make faculty appointments. In accordance with the 2014 UC Compendium: Universitywide Review Processes for Academic Programs, Academic Units, & Research Units, ORUs are established on single campuses, whereas Multicampus Research Units (MRUs) exist on two or more campuses.

ORUs administer activities and funds that support the research mission of the unit. This may include preparation and/or administration of research grants (single, multi-investigator or center-level), organization and support of educational/training programs (including training grants), administration of shared resources, organization of meetings and conferences, public education and philanthropy.

Administrative Procedures

Appointment of Director

The Director of an ORU, who must be a tenured faculty member, is appointed by the Vice Chancellor for Research. Directors are generally appointed for a five-year term with the possibility of reappointment, and report to the Vice Chancellor for Research. Appointment or reappointment of the Director is part of the ORU establishment or renewal process. The appointment of a new Director at a time when the ORU is not under review requires that the Office of Research solicit nominations from the ORU membership.

An ORU Director may not hold a concurrent appointment as Dean, Associate Dean, or Department Chair, unless exceptional approval is granted by the Vice Chancellor for Research.

The Director is responsible for the administrative functions of the ORU and, with the assistance of an Advisory Committee, for guidance of the unit's activities in accordance with its established goals.

Advisory Committee

An Advisory Committee may be appointed for each ORU. The Director of the ORU will have the opportunity to recommend potential members for the Advisory Committee. Candidates should be recognized leaders in the research field of the ORU and should come from both inside and outside the University of California system. Faculty who are members of the ORU cannot serve on the Advisory Committee.

The Advisory Committee, if one is appointed, meets regularly and participates actively in setting the unit's goals and in critically evaluating its effectiveness on a continuing basis, including a review of the unit's Annual Report.

Administrative Operations

The ORU reports to the Vice Chancellor for Research and must follow administrative review and approval processes set forth by the Vice Chancellor and/or campus policy.

ORUs are expected to follow all University of California policies related to academic responsibilities, including teaching and service workload within the faculty's respective home academic units, faculty commitment of effort and/or compensation, honoraria, travel and sabbatical leave.

Where expedient and to avoid duplication of administrative services, the ORU may negotiate coverage of services such as personnel administration, accounting and purchasing with an allied school, department, or other unit.

Prior to campus approval of an ORU, an organizational plan must be developed and any assurances related to administrative services, space and facilities must be finalized between the ORU and related academic units.

Application and Review Procedures

Criteria for establishing new ORUs and evaluating existing ORUs are provided in the Criteria for ORUs section of these guidelines. These criteria include Research Focus, Investigators, Organization and Value Added. Value Added is a critical element in justifying institutional support of an ORU.

Interested parties are encouraged to consult with the Office of Research before embarking on the application process for a new ORU. The first step in the application is submission of a white paper.

A. White Paper Requirements and Review

A white paper and attachments, as described below, should be submitted electronically via email to and should include the following:

  1. A description of the proposed ORU (no more than 2 pages of narrative). ORUs are meant to foster interdisciplinary research that might not flourish in the conventional single school environment. Therefore, the narrative should provide a compelling rationale for this and address the key criteria of Research Focus, Significance, Investigators and Value Added (see Criteria for ORUs section of this document for additional information).
  2. Attachments:
    • A list of the faculty members who have agreed to become actively participating members of the proposed ORU, signed by each.
    • Letters of support from each of the involved Deans.
    • CV and/or biosketch of the proposed ORU director
    • Links to relevant websites that may provide additional information.  Reviewers may or may not view the websites, so the white paper should address all key criteria.

White papers will be reviewed by a committee in the Office of Research, including faculty and research administrators and a representative from the senate Council on Research, Computers and Libraries (CORCL). Based on the evaluations of the committee, the white papers will be rated into the following categories:

  1. Not ready for further consideration. The white paper will be returned to the applicants with feedback on what would make for a favorable application at a later date.
  2. Promising but not yet ready for an ORU application; consider for establishment as a Provisional ORU (PrORU). White papers in this category represent groups that have made substantial progress towards an ORU but further development in specific areas are still necessary (e.g., obtaining a center-scale grant). The Office of Research will work with these groups to provide support to help them achieve these goals. Further instructions will be provided to applicants whose white papers fall into this category.  Ultimately a specific agreement with the proposing group detailing milestones to be met will be developed,and funding will be provided for at most 3 years, subject to satisfactory progress. During this time the group will have the designation Provisional ORU (PrORU). If the milestones are accomplished a PrORU may receive approval to submit an application for ORU status. If they are not, by the end of 3 years, then PrORU designation and further funding will be terminated.
  3. Ready to submit a full ORU proposal.

B. Full Proposal Requirements

Full Proposals are by invitation only and will be solicited only after a positive White Paper review.

A proposal, not to exceed 10 pages of narrative (excluding attachments or appendices), should be submitted to the Vice Chancellor for Research. Please consult and address the Criteria for Establishing and Evaluating ORUs throughout the narrative. The narrative should accomplish the following:

  1. Describe, in detail, research activities to be undertaken. Special attention should be paid to the creative value and significance of the proposed program. The proposal should discuss the original knowledge that the proposed ORU may be anticipated to discover and/or create.
  2. Explain why existing campus structures (Departments, Schools, Programs, Special Research Programs, other ORUs) or UC systemwide initiatives, if relevant, cannot accommodate the outlined goals and objectives.
  3. Discuss the proposed ORU’s specific objectives and describe how the objectives will be monitored and performance will be measured.
  4. Spell out a timeline for the stages of development in the research program over the first five years.
  5. Provide projections for numbers of faculty members and students who are expected to participate in the ORU over the five-year period. Core membership must include a minimum of five faculty members who represent more than one school.
  6. Explain how each faculty member’s research will be integrated with the proposed ORU to develop a synergy greater than their individual efforts. This explanation should also include a statement about the nature of each faculty member’s participation in the proposed ORU.
  7. Describe the proposed ORU’s potential to provide added value to the UCI research enterprise and elevate the entire UCI campus over time.

Attachments or appendices to the ORU proposal should provide the following information:

    • Brief biosketches (two pages each) of the proposers.
    • Statement from all of the faculty members indicating that they have agreed to participate in the proposed ORU.
    • An operational plan that discusses the operational and administrative service needs of the proposed ORU and how they will be met, including:
      1. Resource requirement projections with a five-year budget and requirements for space, administrative/operational services, capital improvements, and library resources.
      2. A written confirmation of assigned space from the academic unit in which the program will be physically located is required. Consult with the Office of Research for an update on the likely range in size of allocations for ORUs at the time of submission.
    • Budget projections that include anticipated sources of funding (intramural and extramural), anticipated expenditures and an expense justification that links the anticipated expenditures with the proposed ORU’s objectives. Appropriate use of ORU funding includes direct research expenses, such as support for research assistants and postdoctoral fellows, materials and supplies, equipment and facilities, research workshops, and general assistance.
    • Names of potential outside reviewers who have no conflict of interest with the proposed ORU or the proposers. The list should include at least ten specialists of national and international prominence within and outside the UC system, with a brief description of their areas of specialization, institutional affiliations, and contact information.
    • Metrics by which the proposed ORU should be evaluated.

An ORU may not be established if research objectives are essentially the same as those of an existing department or research unit. Prior status as a Campus Center or other organized research program is usually required.

C. Proposal Review

The minimum time for completion of the review process to establish a new ORU is one year, including Senate reviews.

  1. Appropriate Deans, Directors and Department Chairs will be asked to comment on issues of quality and significance, organization and support, operational plans, budget and space.
  2. External reviewers of the proposal will be solicited by the Office of Research, drawn from the proposed ORU’s list of names as well as other appropriate reviewers. All reviews will be treated as confidential, subject to the policies of the University of California.
  3. The Vice Chancellor for Research will submit the completed ORU proposal package, with the Deans' comments and the external letters, to the senate Council on Research, Computing and Libraries (CORCL).
  4. CORCL will review the proposal; during the review it may request (through the Office of Research) additional information from the proposers.
  5. CORCL will inform the Vice Chancellor for Research whether it recommends establishment of the ORU or not.
  6. If the CORCL recommendation is positive, the proposal will next be conveyed to the Irvine Division Chair of the Academic Senate. At the Chair's discretion, the proposal will be forwarded for commentary and recommendations to the appropriate campus Senate councils/committees, which historically have been the Graduate Council, Council on Educational Policy, and Council on Planning and Budget.
  7. If the Senate review is favorable, the Vice Chancellor for Research will decide whether to approve the proposed ORU for establishment.
  8. If approved for establishment, the Vice Chancellor for Research informs the Office of the President of the new ORU.

Budget and Financial Considerations

Activities of ORUs may be funded by University budget allocations, philanthropic donations, and/or extramural funds (direct or indirect). The University may provide core administrative support in the form of a Director's stipend, allocations for supplies and expenses, equipment and facilities, and general assistance. No University funding is available for teaching buy-outs or summer salary.

To achieve administrative efficiencies and improvements, ORUs are encouraged to combine resources with other Centers/Institutes, or to contract with a Department or School for administrative support.

Annual Reports

At the end of each academic year, ORUs shall submit to the Vice Chancellor for Research an annual report that includes:

  1. A summary of the ORU activities for the year highlighting major achievements.
  2. Numbers of graduate and postdoctoral students directly contributing to the unit who: a) are on the unit's payroll; b) participate through assistantships, fellowships or traineeships; or c) are otherwise involved in the unit's work.
  3. Number of faculty members actively engaged in the ORU’s research and/or its administration.
  4. Extent of participation by students and faculty from other campuses or universities.
  5. Numbers of FTE of professional, technical, administrative and clerical personnel employed.
  6. A list of publications resulting from the collaborative endeavors of the ORU.
  7. A list of grant awards to participating faculty, as well as sources and amounts (on an annual basis) of support funds of all types, including income from service facilities, the sale of publications and from other services.
  8. Expenditures, distinguishing use of funds for administrative support, matching funds, direct research and other specific uses. A copy of the June 30th Final Ledger will satisfy this requirement; summary tables are also acceptable.
  9. Description of the space currently occupied.
  10. Any other information deemed relevant to the evaluation of a unit's effectiveness, including updated five-year plans.

After receipt of the annual report, the Vice Chancellor for Research will meet with the ORU director to review the ORU’s progress and discuss its future directions.

ORU Program Reviews

Each ORU shall undergo a program review at intervals of five years. The review will assess the Unit's activities with regard to its stated purpose, present functioning, future plans and continuing development to meet the research goals and institutional aspirations.

Every fifth year, in lieu of the above Annual Report, a Program review will be held involving the following steps:

  1. By September 1st in the year it is to be reviewed, the ORU will prepare and submit to the Office of Research a self-report, similar to proposals for establishment of an ORU, including names of suggested external reviewers. The self-report should also include a progress report addressing how the unit is meeting its goals, and describing notable accomplishments. Future directions should also be indicated. A leadership succession plan should also be included.
  2. The expected lifetime of an ORU is fifteen years, although units can propose continuation past this time (see below for Sunset Reviews). For units submitting a 10-year program review, a transition plan for how activities of the unit will be continued past fifteen years should be included in the self-report, taking into account that continued funding past sunset at the same level from the Office of Research may not occur.
  3. By March 1st of the year the review is conducted, the self-report, along with external evaluation letters, will be forwarded by the Vice Chancellor for Research to CORCL. CORCL will conduct a review and report to the Vice Chancellor its recommendation about whether the ORU should be continued for another five years.
  4. The Vice Chancellor for Research will meet with the ORU director to discuss the unit and issues that have arisen during the review. The Vice Chancellor will then decide if the ORU should be continued for another five years, or if it should be terminated. In the latter case, phase-out funding for one year will be provided. This decision will be made, concluding the review process, by June 30th.
  5. When a program review is concluded with the continuation of the ORU for an additional term, any suggestions or comments that the Vice Chancellor feels may be helpful in planning for the next term will be communicated in writing to the ORU Director.  The Director will be asked to respond to those comments in the next annual report.

In addition to the regular program reviews, an ORU may periodically undergo an administrative review by the Office of Research. This review of the management and operations of the ORU may take place before a leadership transition, such as when a new Director is appointed, or if particular administrative issues have arisen.

Sunset Review

If an ORU has been in existence for 15 years or more and it wishes to continue, it will be subject to a Sunset Review, initiated during the 14th year. If continued ORU status is not a goal, the Director will provide a final report to the Office of Research by October 1st (3 months after the conclusion of the ORU’s final year). In the light of finite financial resources, and the importance of establishing new ORUs as new research areas open up, continuation of all ORUs past the 15 year sunset with support at the levels they previously received is not feasible. Therefore, the Sunset Review will be more stringent than previous program reviews. In particular, emphasis will be placed on Value Added provided by the ORU; for continuation past sunset, over its 15 year lifetime, the ORU should not only have benefited the research of its members, but it should have enhanced and elevated its research area for the participating schools and the campus as a whole.

The process for a Sunset Review will be similar to a program review, except that a document similar to an application for establishing a new ORU should be submitted (see above). The application should address all criteria for establishing and continuing ORUs and include 1) a progress report for its achievements over the past 15 years (or since it has been in existence), 2) contributions the ORU has made to research, graduate and undergraduate education and public service, 3) new visions, goals, and prospects and 4) the consequences if the ORU were not continued. Other evidence of Value Added should also be included. The proposal should explain whether the ORU proposes to continue unchanged in the future, or if its plans change, what they will be and what they will accomplish, and how leadership continuation or change will be managed. The application should be submitted to the Office of Research by September 1st of the academic year of the Sunset Review.

In developing the budget for proposed ORU continuation, the unit should provide a budget in which support from the Office of Research is reduced or absent. Possible mechanisms to replace the funds include direct or indirect costs from extramural grants administered by the ORU, philanthropy, income from shared resources, sharing expenses with other units, and contributions from academic units.

For Sunset Reviews, upon receipt of the applications:

  • The Office of Research will solicit letters of evaluation from external reviewers, and comments about continuing the ORU past sunset from relevant deans.
  • The application and accompanying documents, will be forwarded by the Vice Chancellor for Research to CORCL by March 1st. CORCL will conduct a review and report to the Vice Chancellor its recommendation about whether the ORU should be continued past sunset.
  • The Vice Chancellor for Research will meet with the ORU director to discuss the unit and justification for renewal past sunset. The Vice Chancellor will then decide if the ORU should be continued for another five years, or if it should be sunsetted.
  • When a sunset review is concluded with the continuation of the ORU for an additional term, any suggestions or comments that the Vice Chancellor feels may be helpful in planning for the next term will be communicated in writing to the ORU Director.  The Director will be asked to respond to those comments in the next annual report.

A decision concerning continuation of the unit past sunset is made by the Vice Chancellor for Research by June 30th. All five year reviews of an ORU that has passed sunset will be Sunset Reviews.

There are several options for an ORU after a sunset review that does not result in continuation:

  • The ORU may close, or it may transition to status as a School Center or Campus Center.
  • The ORU may reapply, reinventing itself academically as a new ORU.
  • An ORU that runs a core research facility may continue to operate as a facility.

The establishment or renewal date for all ORUs will be July 1.

Criteria for ORUs

An Organized Research Unit (ORU) is an academic unit established by the University to provide a supportive infrastructure for pursuing and enabling interdisciplinary collaborative research complementary to the traditional disciplinary goals of academic departments and schools. As such, ORUs typically involve faculty from two or more Schools. The research portfolio and goals of an ORU must be complementary to the research goals of the existing departments, schools and other ORUs. ORUs do not have jurisdiction over courses or curricula and cannot offer formal courses or make faculty appointments.

ORUs are a major mechanism for fostering and enhancing the research enterprise at UCI. They take advantage of the strength and breadth of university faculty addressing a particular research area, and through multidisciplinary approaches they enhance research beyond what is conducted in existing departments and schools. They also can advance fundamental discoveries towards applications beyond academia, with applications in health, materials science, and information technology to name a few. A successful ORU should elevate the entire university and showcase UCI’s excellence and prominence in its area of research.

The four criteria for evaluating ORUs (proposed and existing) are: Research Focus, Investigators, Organization, and Value Added.

1. Research Focus.

The research focus is the principal strategic element for the existence of an ORU.

  • Importance. The research should address an area that is of high interest from scholarly and societal perspectives. What will the impact be of research that emerges from an ORU? Why is UCI the best place to create an ORU in this area? Why is it strategic to UCI’s future as a world-class research university?
  • Timeliness. The research should be timely, both in terms of feasibility and impact. Why is now the right time to establish an ORU in this area? Have new advances made it possible to address problems that were previously inaccessible? Has a new societal development made research in this area of heightened importance? How does an ORU in this area put UCI ahead of our competition?
  • *Opportunities for Extramural Support. For many research areas, research funding is necessary. Is the research area of interest to government funding agencies? Are there private foundations (or others) with interest in this research area? Will an ORU in this area be competitive for funding nationally?

2. Investigators.

The research strength and effectiveness of an ORU is based on the quality of its faculty and research staff.

  • Quality of their research. The individual investigators in the ORU should be accomplished researchers, as judged by the quality of their publications, success in garnering research funding, and national/international scholarly profiles. Their research should be directly relevant to the research focus of the ORU.
  • Depth and breadth of the researchers. Since ORUs are multidisciplinary and of significant duration, the depth and breadth of the research faculty is important to the stability of an ORU. Are there sufficient researchers to facilitate multidisciplinary research? Will the ORU be able to survive departure of one or a few researchers?
  • Commitment to the ORU. Are the members committed to the ORU? Are they conducting research relevant to the ORU? For existing ORUs, is participation in ORU activities robust?
  • Evidence for past and current collaborations. Is there evidence that ORU members are collaborative? Indications of collaborations include joint publications and multi-investigator grants.

3. Organization.

The success of an ORU will be dependent on its organization. Different ORUs may have different administrative structures, but ultimately they must foster collaborative multidisciplinary research with faculty from multiple academic units and schools.

  • Qualifications of the Director. At the least, an ORU director must be a tenured member of the academic senate serving at 100% effort. The director should be a leader in his/her field, as evidenced by publications, research grants, appointment to review panels, etc. Directors should also have evidence of administrative capabilities suitable for overseeing a multi-investigator and multi-disciplinary unit.
  • Effective operational/administrative plans. An administrative structure for the ORU must make possible operation of the ORU and facilitate its multidisciplinary research.
    • Research infrastructure.Infrastructure that the ORU will manage should be identified, and a management (and/or acquisition) plan should be in place. If the ORU manages technical staff, a plan for this (including financial details) should be in place. Space for the ORU (including administrative and any research space) must be identified.
    • Plans for research administration. Research administration involves both proposal generation and grant awards administration. The research administration plan should describe those activities conducted by the ORU, the range of grants to be administered (individual investigator grants vs. program projects grants vs. training grants). A financial plan to cover the administrative costs associated with grant proposals and administration also should be developed.
    • Other administration. There should be a plan for other administrative activities carried by the ORU (e.g. meeting organization, coordination of teaching) and how they will be supported.
    • Support/commitments from academic units. The organizational plan of the ORU should have the support of the academic units whose faculty are participating in the ORU. Support could include space, financial commitments, sharing of administrative staff, collaboration in graduate and undergraduate teaching and others. Letters of support from relevant deans and department chairs should be included in new and continuing applications.

4. Value Added. This element is critical to justifying institutional support for the ORU.

The goal of ORUs is to provide added value to the ORU members, the academic units, and the campus as a whole. Some criteria for assessing value added include:

  • How does the ORU make the research of its members “greater than the sum of the parts”?
  • Is the ORU carrying out activities that could not be accomplished within existing schools/departments?
  • The ORU should elevate the entire campus and contribute to the goal of substantially raising research funding. Obtaining new multi-investigator center-type grants and raising the visibility of UCI within the community are examples.\
  • If the ORU is not established, what would be the lost opportunities?

*Research funding is the coin of the realm in STEM fields, but for other disciplines where high quality research is not dependent on funding, success in funding might not be a primary criterion.


Submissions should be directed to:

Vice Chancellor for Research
Office of Research
160 Aldrich Hall
University of California
Irvine, CA 92697-3175

For inquiries, please call (949) 824-5796.

Questions About Organized Research Units?

Please contact:

Jill Yonago Kay
Director, Research Policy
(949) 824-1410

Hung Fan, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives
(949) 824-5796